Menu Close

Tag: Holy Spirit

Interpreting the Bible: One Book, Endless Interpretations

bono baptist church

Evangelicals would have you believe that the Bible is an inexhaustible book filled with the very words of God (as interpreted by them). Someone can read the Bible for fifty years and still not mine its depths. It’s the only book ever written that can never be fully understood, or so Evangelicals tell us. This is why no two Evangelicals can agree on exactly what the Bible says. As a Christian, I engaged in numerous discussions about a particular Bible text only to have my opponent say, well Brother, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Each of us had a version of truth, each of us had proof that our interpretation was correct. If the Bible is what Evangelicals claim it is, shouldn’t truth be concise, clear, and easy to understand? Why all the disagreement and heated debate among Christians over what the Bible teaches? Doesn’t the Bible say that God is NOT the author of confusion? Yet, everywhere I look I see confusion.

One of the reasons for the confusion is the Evangelical (and Baptist) doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. Unlike the Israelites of the Old Testament, Evangelicals don’t need Moses or a priest to go before God on their behalf. They can directly access God without going through a middleman. The same goes for the Bible. Since God himself, the Holy Spirit, lives inside every Christian, they have no need of a human to teach them what the Bible says. God is their teacher, and who better to teach Christians what the Bible says than its author, right? Here’s what the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:12-16:

 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.

According to this text, Christians have received the Spirit of God and are taught by him. The reason someone like me, a natural man, can’t understand the Bible is because I don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of me. Only Christians can spiritually discern what is truth. In fact, Christians have the mind of Christ — Christ being God — so this means that Christians have the mind of God.  If this is so, why is there so much confusion about what to believe and what the Bible says about most anything?

Christian sects can’t even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, and communion. Each sect thinks its interpretation is the one ordained by God and clearly taught in the Bible. Two thousand years of councils, decrees, confessions, and doctrinal statements reveal that Christians are incapable of coming to any common agreement on anything. Even the nature of Jesus and God are in dispute. Broaden the discussion to ecclesiology, eschatology, and pneumatology, throw in the endless debates over hermeneutics and orthopraxy, and you end up with endless versions of the faith once delivered unto the saints.

The Bible says one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God. It also says that God’s chosen people are to be of one mind, dwell in unity, and love one another. Yet, everywhere I look, I see the opposite. Many Lords, many Faiths, many Baptisms, many Gods, many minds and disunity, dysfunction, disagreement, and internecine war. Christians object when people like me point these things out. How dare I judge Christianity! All I am doing is using the same standard to judge Christianity as Christians use to judge my life and that of everyone else who is not a Christian. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, yes?

In 2003, I pastored Victory Baptist Church in Clare, Michigan. Victory, a Southern Baptist church, closed its doors a few years after I resigned. While many of the members were decent people, the church had lots of dysfunction, thus qualifying it to be rescued by Bruce Gerencser. As I look back on the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I can now see that I was drawn to churches that I could either start from scratch or fix. Victory was a fixer-upper, a church I thought God and I could get back on track. Instead of fixing the church, it fixed me. Victory would be the last church I pastored.

Victory had a traditional Sunday school, one that used quarterlies. I hated quarterlies, but I decided that I didn’t want the turmoil that would come from trying to change the Sunday school curriculum. One of the men in the church, Steve, taught the adult class. Every week, the adults would get together and take turns reading the lesson and the appropriate verses. Then they would discuss what the lesson/verses meant to them. That’s right, each class member had his or her own opinion, and each opinion was given equal weight. It was like taking a test where there are no wrong answers.

One week, the lesson was on election. As a Calvinist, I had a good understanding of the various soteriological beliefs on election. It was quite interesting to hear the various ‘what it means to me’ interpretations of election. The Sunday school teacher, a man with no theological training outside of being able to read, said the word “election” in the Bible meant “we get to choose.” I tried to gently explain to him that no sect taught such a belief, but his mind was settled; election, like in voting for a president, meant each of us making a choice of God and Jesus.

Take the photograph at the top of this post. This photo was taken at a specific place on a certain date and time. It only has one meaning, yet using the ‘what it means to me’ approach someone might conclude that BONO, of U2 fame, started a Baptist church or there is a church named after him. Surely, every belief, every opinion should be given the same weight and respect, right? Of course not. The photo is of the sign for the Bono Baptist Church in Martin, Ohio, an unincorporated village in Ottawa County. The sign is located on State Route 2, across the road from I ‘Heart’ U, God sign. I can vouch for the photo because I am the one who took it.

Multiply ‘what it means to me’ by the number of Christians in the world and you end up with millions of Christianities. Catholics love to point out that this is a Protestant problem, but they have their own version of ‘what it means to me’. The pope, the vicar of Christ, God’s representative on earth, is quite clear about using birth control being a sin. Yet, most Catholic women, at one time or another, use birth control. The same could be said of a number of set-in-stone Catholic teachings. Both the Protestants and the Catholics have a paint-by-number Christianity that allows Christians to ignore the color guide and use whatever color fits their fancy.

So, when a Christian sect, pastor, priest, blogger, Bible college professor, or church member says THUS SAITH THE LORD, the BIBLE says, or THIS is THE truth, I hope they will forgive me for laughing. At best, Christianity is a religion based on personal interpretation and opinion, with each person, to quote the Bible, “being fully persuaded in their his own mind.” At worst, it is the faith of the uneducated who, thanks to tribal and cultural influence, mouth beliefs they have no intellectual ability or desire to defend.

I have come to the conclusion that every Christian sect and every interpretation of the Bible is correct. DING! DING! DING! Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! They all win! The Bible, along with 2,000 years of Christian church history, can be used to prove almost any belief. Calvinists and Arminians have been squaring off and fighting for centuries, each believing that their interpretation is correct and God is on their side. And even here, there are uncounted shades of Calvinism and Arminianism, with each shade resolutely saying theirs is the right color. From the most ardent Fundamentalist to the most liberal Christian, followers of Jesus use the Bible to prop up their beliefs. Yea! Go Team Jesus!

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Questions: Bruce, What Was Your View of “God”?

questions

I put out the call to readers, asking them for questions they would like me to answer. If you have a question, please leave it here or email me. All questions will be answered in the order in which they are received.

Evan asked:

My first question is, what is God to you? Also, when you were actively involved in the church, what, how, and where did you see God as? To give some examples, is God a bearded man in the sky watching us (as silly as that sounds)? Is he Invisible, Risen? Lively or Unlively? What about when praying to him (as in Jesus)? Do you think he was listening to your words?

Evan is not a Christian, so he asks these questions from the perspective of an unbeliever trying to understand how Christians view and understand God. There is no singular Christian view/understanding of God, so it is impossible to define God from a singular perspective. Put a hundred Christians in a room and have them answer Evan’s questions, and you will end up with dozens of answers. Much like Jesus, “God” is a product of human imagination and experience. Simply put, God is whoever/whatever you want him/her/it to be. What follows, then, is how I viewed God as an Evangelical Christian and pastor. My past view of God is normative within Evangelicalism, but certainly not the only view found within the Evangelical tent.

Evan’s first question is in the present tense, so let me briefly answer it before answering the “what is God to you” in the past tense. I am an atheist, so I don’t believe in the existence of deities. I am persuaded that God is a human construct, the byproduct of a pre-science world. Humans looked at the universe and tried to explain what they saw. Enter Gods. Science, of course, has now answered many of the questions that were once answered with “God.” As science continues to answer more and more questions about our universe, God becomes irrelevant. Of course, the concept of “God” is deeply ingrained in human thinking, so ridding our world of deities is not easy.

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed God was eternal and transcendent; that God was three persons in one (the Trinity): God, the father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. God was all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Simply put, God was everywhere. There was no place I could go to escape the presence of God.

God was a personal deity. Jesus died on a Roman cross for my sins (substitutionary atonement) and resurrected from the dead three days later. By putting my faith and trust in Jesus, I believed he forgave my past/present/future sins, and I would go to Heaven after I died. The moment I was “saved.” the Holy Spirit moved into my “heart” and became my teacher and guide.

I viewed God as a spiritual presence in my life and the world. Through the Bible and prayer, God “spoke” to me — not audibly per se. Feeling and knowing the presence of God is hard to explain. Religious indoctrination and conditioning led me to believe God was an ever-present reality in my life. There was no escaping God, even when I was sinning. When I prayed, I thought I was directly talking to God. At times. I had profound experiences when praying, reading the Bible, or preaching. Just as God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I believe God walked with me too.

This is a dumbed-down (no offense to Evan) version of how I viewed and experienced God as an Evangelical Christian. I could have written a 10,000-word treatise on the Trinitarian God, complete with a plethora of Bible references. However, doing so would likely not give Evan the answers he is seeking.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

No Books Needed: I Just Read the Bible

john ruskin bible

One Sunday twenty years ago, several young families walked into the door of the church just before the start of the evening service. We rarely had visitors on Sunday evening, so their attendance was rather a surprise. After the service was over, I engaged one of the visitors, a young husband, in a bit of get-to-know-you banter. The man had little interest in chit-chat, immediately asking me several pointed theological questions. I did my best to answer the man’s questions, but I could tell that he didn’t approve of my answers.

Always the polite pastor, I told the disapproving man that I had a book that might prove helpful in answering his questions. The man curtly replied, I am not interested in reading a book. I just read the Bible and that is all I need. And with that, he said good night and his family walked out the door never to return.

Sadly, this kind of thinking is quite common in Evangelical churches, even among pastors. I know of one pastor who is proud of the fact that his study library consists of only a handful of books. In his mind, without any proper theological training, he is quite capable of properly interpreting the Bible. This pastor believes God, through the inner workings of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, teaches him everything he needs to know. In other words, he is an Evangelical version of the Pope. God speaks to him directly as he reads and studies the Bible. However, when church members profess the same, and those members’ interpretations of the Bible differ with his, why they are deemed to be wrong. If it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and guides Evangelicals, wouldn’t he be teaching each Christian the same thing? Yet, Evangelical churches are awash in competing theological beliefs, with each adherent believing that his interpretations are the right ones.

Years ago, I attended a preacher’s meeting (a monthly gathering of pastors for food, fellowship, and preaching) in Lancaster, Ohio. One of the speakers, a rather obese man, even by fat-man Bruce Gerencser standards, fashioned himself to be what he called a “Biblical” preacher. His sermon had no form or structure. He would read a verse, stop, and then say what God was “leading” him to say. As with the two previous illustrations, this preacher thought his personal interpretations of the Bible were the equivalent of God’s.

Many Evangelical pastors love to hide behind flowery theological sayings which are meant to convey the thought that their sermons are straight from God’s Office of Sermon Distribution. The truth is, their sermons are just their opinions of what the Bible says. That they refuse to read any other books but the Bible (and often read only one translation of the Bible) actually increases the likelihood that their interpretation is errant and fallible. These Bible-only people have, in effect, turned themselves into the final authorities on what God has said.

If I were still a Christian and looking for a church to attend, the first thing I would do is take a look at the pastor’s library. You can tell a lot about a man by the books he reads. If looking at a pastor’s library reveals a paucity of commentaries and language aids, you can be sure that man is not fit to teach others a religious text that is, by all accounts, a complex, difficult text to interpret and understand. Only in Evangelicalism is ignorance praised as a virtue. This thinking will, in the end, prove to be the death of Evangelicalism.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Seven Things Evangelicals Say to Atheists and Why They Shouldn’t Say Them

jesus loves atheists

Twelve years ago, I walked out the doors of the Ney United Methodist Church, never to return. While I still had a modicum of belief in the existence of a God, I was finished with organized, institutional Christianity. Once free of the church, it was not long before I slid to the bottom of the slippery slope of unbelief. Since then, numerous Evangelicals have attempted to win me back to Jesus or restore me to good standing with the church. Try as they might, I remain an unrepentant atheist — an apostate and enemy of Christianity. Some apologists have concluded that I have committed the unpardonable sin or that God has given me over to a reprobate mind.

What follows is a list of seven things that Evangelicals have said to me over the years in their attempts to get me to renew my membership with Club Jesus®. I have no doubt that every Evangelical-turned-atheist has heard the same things.

I’ll Pray for You

I’ll pray for you is the number one statement Evangelicals make to those who have left the faith. According to Evangelicals, prayer can fix any problem, including turning atheists into believers. Here’s the problem with this kind of thinking: prayer doesn’t work. For many former Evangelicals, unanswered prayer is one of the reasons they deconverted.

During the deconversion process, I made a careful accounting of past prayers and their answers. I specifically focused on answered big-need prayers. In every case, I was able to trace the affirmative answer back to human instrumentality. While I certainly had several I can’t explain it moments, these were not enough to lead me to believe that the Christian God answered prayer.

And here’s the thing, I don’t know of one Evangelical-turned-atheist who has ever returned to Evangelicalism. Despite all the prayers, those who leave don’t return. Wouldn’t it be a big boost for Evangelical stock if God reached down and saved Bruce Gerencser, the atheist preacher? Imagine what a splash it would make if someone such as I returned to the faith. But it doesn’t happen. Why is that?

For many former Evangelicals, we deconverted because we learned that the Evangelical church is built on a faulty foundation: the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. Once people realize and accept that the Bible is not what Evangelicals say it is, they are then free to examine more carefully the central claims of Christianity. In my case, I found that Evangelical beliefs could not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

No matter what I say, Evangelicals are going to continue to pray for me. Rarely does a week go by without several Evangelicals letting me know that they are storming the throne room of God on my behalf (or praying God will kill me). Fine, by all means, pray. But there is no need to let me know that you are doing so. Surely God is able to hear and answer your prayer without me knowing about it.

Have You Ever Heard the Gospel?

The short, snarky answer is this: of course not! I spent 50 years in the Christian church and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years, yet I never heard the gospel one time. Amazing, isn’t it? When Evangelicals take this approach with me, what they really want to know is whether I have heard their version of the gospel. You see, there is no such thing as THE Evangelical gospel. Evangelicals incessantly fight over whose gospel is true. Calvinists and Arminians are fighting a seven-century war over which group has the faith once delivered to the saints. The Bible says, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, yet Christians have spent 21 centuries proving God a liar. The Bible tells us that Christians will be known for their unity and love, yet these beliefs have been turned on their head by sectarians who believe that the only unity and love possible is with people who are part of their exclusive club.

When Christians ever figure out what the gospel is, I hope they will let me know. Until then, I plan to pop some popcorn and watch the comedy known as the internecine wars of Christianity. As one commenter on Facebook said, and I paraphrase:  Evangelicals think that their battles over right doctrine are some sort of intellectual pursuit. They are not. From the outside, all the wrangling over doctrinal minutia looks a lot like toddlers fighting over toys.

God Laid You on My Heart

Several years ago, a former long-time friend and colleague in the ministry contacted me, out of the blue, on Facebook, and told me what he thought of my deconversion and its effect on my family. Needless to say, his words were not kind, and after we traded a couple of emails he stopped writing.

Now my former friend is back. Why? God laid me on his heart. This time, he decided to approach me in a kinder, more respectful way. We traded emails that talked about our families and that was the end of that. While this man was, at one time, my closest friend, we no longer have anything in common. The elephant in the room will always be my atheism and intellectual assault on Evangelical Christianity. And I get it, I really do. It is hard to maintain a friendship with someone who thinks your beliefs are intellectual rubbish.

Over the years, numerous former church members and ministerial colleagues have contacted me because they believed God had laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts. Instead of wanting to catch up or talk about old times, they thought God has a personal mission for them: contact Bruce Gerencser. In most cases, their message from God is preceded by them doing a web search for my name. In other words, they wondered what I was up to, so they fired up their browser, loaded Google, typed in my name, and were then presented with pages of links for Bruce Gerencser (I am the only Bruce Gerencser in the world). Was it God who was leading them to do the search, or was it curiosity, wondering what Bruce is up to these days?

As an atheist, I don’t think God exists, so Evangelicals telling me that God laid Bruce Gerencser on their hearts has no effect on me. Sometimes, I want to ask Evangelicals how they KNOW God talked to them about me, but I already know all the stock answers for such a question. Evangelicals know what they know, and all the reason in the world won’t change their mind.

God is Trying to Get Your Attention

Evangelicals believe that their God, as owner of everything, is personally and intimately involved in his creation. Despite evidence to the contrary, Evangelicals believe that God is an everyday, real presence, not only in their lives, but the lives of every person, saved or lost. When Evangelicals read my story, they often focus on the health problems I have. See, Evangelicals say, God is afflicting you so he can get your attention. If I really believed this to be true, I would immediately become an Evangelical again. I would be quite willing to put serious time in at Club Jesus® if it meant that my pain and suffering would go away. (This is sarcasm, by the way, as you shall see in a moment.)

However, when I take a careful look at the “health” of Evangelicals, I see that they are every bit as “afflicted” as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. Well, the Evangelical says, God uses sickness to test, try, or punish Christians. Far more important than bodily health is spiritual health. Sure . . .

Each and every day is a struggle for me. I’ve detailed this many times over the years, so I won’t bore you with the details again. If I thought that the unrelenting pain I suffer is God’s doing, I highly doubt knowing this would turn me into a worshiper of Jesus. What kind of God hurts people so they will love and worship him? In the real world, such abusers are considered criminals, the scum of the earth. Yet, when God abuses people it is because he loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. No thanks! I have no interest in worshiping such a God. I would rather burn in Hell than worship a God who spends his days inflicting pain, suffering, disease, and death on not only humans, but all living things.

You’ll Go to Hell if You Don’t Accept Jesus

The more Fundamentalist the Evangelicals, the more likely they are to tell atheists and unbelievers that the latter will end up in Hell unless they repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. In other words, God is saying that if people don’t accept his foreordained way of salvation, he plans to torture them eternally in a pit of fire and brimstone. In what other setting does such an approach work? Hello, I am your local Kirby Sweeper salesman. If you don’t buy a sweeper from me, I will burn your house to the ground. Such a psychopath would quickly be arrested and locked up. Yet, God, who is every bit as psychopathic as the Kirby salesman, is given a pass.

When Evangelicals try the Hell approach, I quickly tell them that I don’t believe in the existence of Hell; that the only hell is that which humans inflict on one another. Sometimes, toying with them, I will ask them: WHERE is Hell? No answer is forthcoming. Most of the time, I let Evangelicals know that threatening me with Hell will not work. I am immune to being threatened into anything. I spent most of my preaching career threatening people, warning them of the suddenness of death and the certainty of Hell. Over the years, hundreds of people responded to my threats, embracing the wonderful, loving, psychopathic God of Christianity. I now know that such an approach psychologically harms people. Constantly being warned about impending eternal judgment often leaves deep and lasting emotional scars. Consider me scarred.

I Know the Holy Spirit is Speaking to You

Some Evangelicals, those who are more liberal-minded and have kind hearts, read a few of my blog posts and then “discern” that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me. Such people often have a great affinity for my critiques of Evangelicalism. In fact, some of them, not paying attention to the fact that I am an atheist, think I am a member of their club. I have received numerous emails from “fellow” brothers and sisters in Lord. When I respond and let them know that I am an atheist, they often can’t believe that I am a child of Satan. How could the Devil’s spawn ever write the way Bruce does? they think to themselves.

I happen to be quite conversant in all things Evangelical. Even though I haven’t pastored a church in over 17 years, I still follow the machinations of Evangelicalism quite closely. It is a subject that interests me, and I suspect this interest shows in my writing. However, my pastime should not in any way be confused with the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

Since I don’t believe in God, telling me that the third part of the Trinity is speaking to me has no value. First, how can anyone possibly KNOW that the Holy Spirit is carrying on a conversation with me in my head? Isn’t such a thing beyond the purview of even the sharpest of God’s discerners? Telling me that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me is akin to telling me that aliens from a far-away galaxy are telepathically communicating with me. The only voices in my head are mine.

Do You Want Your Children or Grandchildren to Grow Up Without Knowing God and Having No Morals?

Ah yes, the classic do it for the kids line of thinking. Here’s the thing: now that I am 63 years old, I have had six decades to contemplate belief in God and its effect on the human race. That’s a long time. I have spent most of my life drinking deeply at the trough of Christianity. I now know that the water in the trough was a mirage. I thought the healing waters of the Christian God imparted morality and ethics to all who would drink, but these days I’ve come to see that, while religion can play part in dispensing morality and ethics, it often, thanks to rigid dogma, proves to be an impediment to moral and ethical development.

Evangelicals, in particular, think that morality and ethics ONLY come from the Christian God. No matter how many studies and arguments prove that such a claim is not true, Evangelicals continue to hang on to the belief that their God and the Bible are the sole sources of morality. This kind of thinking has turned into what is commonly called the culture war. Evangelicals demand that everyone live according to their moral code. They even go as far as using the government to force others to live by their peculiar interpretations of the Bible. If only the Ten Commandments were taught in school, America would be great again, Evangelicals say. However, when unbelievers take a close look at how Evangelicals live, they quickly find out that God’s chosen ones don’t practice what they preach. If the Evangelicals are anything, they are hypocrites.

My six children are all grown. All of them have made up their own minds about God. None of them worships the Evangelical God. For the most part, my children are indifferent towards religion, ALL religion. My thirteen grandchildren? I hope they never see the inside of an Evangelical church, apart from funerals and weddings. I think Evangelical belief often causes psychological harm. In some cases, such beliefs can lead to abuse or turn people into abusers. Why would I ever want my grandchildren within a light-year of an Evangelical church?

If I could script the lives of my grandchildren (and I can’t) I would love for them to take a World Religion class. I know that exposing them to other religions besides Christianity will dampen or destroy any affinity they might have for Evangelicalism. Exposure to knowledge is a sure cure for Fundamentalism. The more my grandchildren learn about religion (and humanism and atheism), the less likely they are to follow down the same pernicious path Nana and Grandpa followed decades ago. If they still decide to embrace some sort of religion, I hope they will embrace practices that affirm their self-worth and cause them to love others. Such values cannot be found in Evangelical churches because they are always secondary to right belief and rigid obedience.

As I watch my grandchildren grow up, I can’t help but see how different they are from their parents (and this is due to their parents allowing them wander down paths they themselves were never allowed to go). I revel in their thirst for knowledge, knowing that satisfying this thirst will inoculate them from being infected by the mind-killing disease of religious Fundamentalism. Perhaps in their generation the curse will finally be broken. While Polly’s Fundamentalist mom laments what our unbelief is doing to our children and grandchildren, I see things differently. I now know that intellectual and personal freedom leads to lives filled with meaning and purpose. Most of all, I want those who bear my name to live lives filled with happiness. Shouldn’t that be our hope for everyone?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Atheists Need the Holy Spirit to Understand the Bible

the bible says

Why do some people [Bruce Gerencser] apostatize, who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ, even those who were pastors, ended up leaving Jesus Christ? These false converts even believed that they had the Holy Spirit before they fell away from the faith.

An apostate [Bruce Gerencser] shows us that they never understood the Holy Scriptures because to understand the Bible, they had to have the Holy Spirit living inside of them in the first place. [According to Evangelical orthodoxy, only Christians have the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Yet, Spaniard VIII says unbelievers must have the Holy Spirit inside of them to understand the Bible. Which is it? Talk about circular reasoning.]

….

If an atheist [Bruce Gerencser] ever says to you that he knows more than you, referring to the Bible, or that he once had the Holy Spirit, it just shows how deluded they are and continues to be. Unless they humble themselves in the sight of Christ, they will continue to walk in darkness straight to the multiple pathways to hell. Atheists are one of the proudest people you will ever encounter. The reason for this is that they went through a traumatic situation that got them so bitter towards God that all they can do is curse at Him and His followers. People like that make me feel sorry for them. Only prayer can break their hardness.

— Spaniard VII, Spiritual Minefield, Why Do Some People Abandon Their Faith In Christ?, September 29, 2020

Marques Jeffries left the following comment on Spaniard VIII’s post:

Amen, brother! Bruce [Gerencser], Andrea, John Arthur, and the rest of their Atheist friends’ angry words against God are just a cover-up for either a panful event from their past, or because there is a sin that they are committing that they don’t want to let go of. [Yes, I love fucking space aliens.]

The Holy Spirit allows us to see through all of their angry words, and know that it is Satan manipulating them to behave in this manner. The God that they reject is the only One who can supply the pure love that every person longs for.

Like you said, all we can do is witness to them, and pray that they will have a life experience that softens their heart to enable the Holy Spirit to come in and do a loving work within them…But salvation is a choice that God leaves to each of us.

Personally, accepting Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. (Marques needs to get out more often.]

Spaniard VIII replied:

Their hatred is pure evidence that they are full of bitterness towards Jesus Christ. Bruce has been reblogging me because I have been saying the truth [No, I have been quoting you to show that you are a Liar for Jesus®.], regarding atheism and it hurts him and the rest his blind followers, sadly. [Yes, your words have really, really, really hurt me.] The more they talk about me, the more blessed I feel. When you get slandered for the sake of Christ by these atheists, you will have treasure in heaven. I welcome it. Win-win for me.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, Have You Ever Had a Supernatural Experience?

atheism

A commenter on this blog, T34, recently asked the following question on the post titled, Is Christianity a Blood Cult?

I read a few of the articles [on this blog] and none of the titles seem to answer my question. Please know I [am]not an evangelist. I honestly am searching for answers. I want to know if Bruce has had any supernatural or spiritual (not religious) experiences or relationship with God or another? I would like to understand more why Bruce chose to be an outright atheist as opposed to just non-religious or agnostic. And if he has had any supernatural or spiritual experiences I’d like to know what they were and what he thinks of them now.

Polly and I typically listen to The Atheist Experience on Sunday nights before we go to bed. This week, Matt Dillahunty, one the hosts, mentioned the difficulty in defining the word “spiritual” or “spirituality.” Ask a hundred people to define these words and you will get 101 different answers. “Spiritual” to a Baptist is very different from the way a Catholic, Buddhist, Pagan, or humanist might define the word. T34 equates “spiritual” with “supernatural,” so I will proceed using that definition, understanding that there is no absolute textbook definition for these words. For example, a Charismatic Christian considers speaking in tongues to be “supernatural” experience. An Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, however, considers speaking in tongues a tool used by Satan to lead people astray.

Before I answer T34’s question, I do want to answer one claim that she makes: she suggests that supernatural and spiritual experiences are not religious. I don’t believe that at all. It is religion, in all its shapes and forms — organized or not — that gives life to supernatural and spiritual claims. Without religion, I doubt humans would have much need for such experiences.

My editor pointed out that non-religious people can and do have paranormal experiences. Are paranormal experiences such as “seeing” ghosts supernatural in nature? Maybe, but I suspect that if naturalism and science had a stronger hold on our thinking, thoughts of ghosts would likely fade away. I’m deliberately painting with a BWAPB — Bruce’s Wide Ass Paint Brush. I recognize that there could be some experiences that might not fit in the box I have constructed in this post. Unlikely, but possible.

I had a church piano player in Somerset who was certain that her dead lover (long story) appeared next to her when she played the piano. I never saw him, but she swore he was right there cheering her on as she played “Victory in Jesus.” Could her story be true? Sure, but not in the way some people may think it is. Her story is true in the sense that she “thinks” it is. In her mind, this man is very real, even though his dead body is planted in the nearby cemetery. Thus such things can be “true” without actually being factually and rationally true.

I was part of the Christian church for 50 years. While I spent my preschool years in Lutheran and Episcopal churches, once I started first grade in 1963, I attended Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB), Southern Baptist, and garden variety Evangelical churches. I spent 25 years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, pastoring my last church in 2003.

When I discuss the spiritual/supernatural experiences I have experienced in my life, these events must be understood in light of the sects I was raised in, what my pastors taught me, what I learned in Bible college, and my personal learning and observations as a Christian and as an Evangelical pastor. My understanding of what is spiritual/supernatural is socially, culturally, tribally, and environmentally conditioned. A Southern Baptist church can be located on the northwest corner of Main and High in Anywhere, Ohio and a Pentecostal church located on the southeast corner of Main and High in the same town. Both preach Jesus as the virgin-born son of God, who came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross for our sins. Both preach that all of us are sinners in need of salvation, that one must be born again to inherit the Kingdom of God. And both believe Satan is real, Hell is sure, and Donald Trump is the great white hope. Yet, when it comes to “experiencing” God, these churches wildly diverge from one another. The Pentecostals consider the Baptists dead and lifeless, lacking Holy Ghost power, while the Baptists consider their Pentecostal neighbors to be way too emotional, to have a screw loose. Both churches “experience” God in their own way, following in the footsteps of their parents, grandparents, and older saints who have come before them.

As a man who pastored several churches in desperate need of change, I heard on more than a few occasions church leaders and congregants say, when confronted with doing something new or different, “That’s not the way we do it!” Behaviors become deeply ingrained among Christian church members. Our forefathers did it this way, we do it this way, and we expect our children and grandchildren will do the same. A popular song in many Evangelical churches is the hymn, “I Shall Not be Moved.” The chorus says:

I shall not be, I shall not be moved.
I shall not be, I shall not be moved;
like a tree planted by the water,
I shall not be moved.

That chorus pretty well explains most churches. Whatever their beliefs and practices are, they “shall not be moved.” So it is when determining what are real “spiritual” or “supernatural” experiences.

supernatural

As a Baptist, I believed the moment I was saved/born-again, that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, came into my “heart” and lived inside of me, teaching me everything that pertains to life and godliness. It was the Holy Spirit who was my teacher and guide. It was the Holy Spirit who taught me the “truth.” It was the Holy Spirit who convicted me of sin. It was the Holy Spirit (God) who heard and answered my prayers. It was the Holy Spirit who directed every aspect of my life.

As a pastor, I typically preached a minimum of 4 sermons a week. I spent several full days a week — typically 20 hours a week — reading and studying the Biblical text, commentaries, and other theological tomes. As I put my sermons together, I sought God’s help to construct them in such a way that people would hear and understand what I had to say. Daily, I asked God to fill me with his presence and power, especially when I entered the pulpit to preach. I always spent time confessing my sins before preaching, believing it was vitally important for me to “right” with God before I stood before my church and said, “thus saith the Lord.”

I expected the Holy Spirit to take my words and use them to work supernaturally among those under the sound of my voice. I believed that it was God alone who could save sinners, convict believers of their sin, or bring “revival” to our church. I saw myself as helpless — without me, ye can do nothing, the Bible says — without the supernatural indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

As a committed Christian, I was a frequent pray-er. I prayed for all sorts of things, from the trivial to things beyond human ability and comprehension. I believed that with God all things were possible. In the moment, I believed that God, through the work of the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was working supernaturally in my life, that of my family, and of my church. My whole life was a “spiritual” experience, of sorts. God was always with me, no matter where I went, what I said, or what I did, so how could it have been otherwise?

In November 2008, God, the Holy Spirit, along with all of his baggage, was expelled from my life. For the past twelve years, I have taken the broom of reason, science, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry and swept the Christian God from every corner of my mind. While I wish I could say that that my mind is swept clean of God, dust-devils remain, lurking in the deep corners and crevasses of my mind. All I know to do is keep sweeping until I can no longer see “God” lurking in the shadows.

T34 wants to know how I now view the “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences from my past life as a Christian and Evangelical pastor. As an atheist, I know that these experiences were not, in any way, connected to God. I have concluded that the Christian God is a myth, that he/she/it is of human origin. If there is no God, then how do I “explain” the God moments I experienced in my life? Does Bruce, the atheist, have an explanation for what “God” did in his life for almost 50 years?

Sure. The answer to this question is really not that difficult. I spent decades being indoctrinated by my parents, pastors, and professors in what they deemed was the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This indoctrination guaranteed the trajectory of my life, from a little redheaded boy who said he wanted to be a preacher when he grew up — not a baseball player, policeman, or trash truck driver, but a preacher — to a Bible college-trained man of God who pastored seven churches over 25 years in the ministry. I couldn’t have been anything other than a pastor.

And so it is with the “spiritual” and “supernatural” experiences I had in my life. My parents, churches, pastors, and professors modeled certain beliefs and practices to me. I “experienced” God the very same way these people did. Social and tribal conditioning determined how I would “experience” God, not God himself. He doesn’t exist, remember?

I sincerely believed that, at the time, God was speaking to me, God was leading me, and God was supernaturally working in and through my life. But just because I believed these things to be true, doesn’t mean they were. A better understanding of science has forced me to see that my past life was built upon a lie, a well-intended con. This is tough for me to admit. In doing so, I am admitting that much of my life was a waste of time. Sure, I did a lot of good for other people, but the “spiritual” and “supernatural” stuff? Nonsense. Nothing, but nonsense. And saying this, even today, is hard for me to do. It’s difficult and painful for me to admit that I wasted so much of my life in the pursuit of something that does not exist.

T34 asked why I “chose to be an outright atheist as opposed to just non-religious or agnostic.” I am not sure what an “outright” atheist is as opposed to an atheist. Remembering what I said about the connection between religion and the “spiritual” and “supernatural,” isn’t someone who is non-religious an atheist or an agnostic? While such people may not carry such labels, aren’t non-religious people those who do not believe in deities? If someone believes in a God of some sort, be it a personal deity or some sort of divine energy, they can’t properly, from my perspective, be considered non-religious.

Granted, there is a difference between people who are non-religious and people who are indifferent towards religion. An increasing number of Americans are indifferent towards religion. They simply don’t give a shit about religion, be it organized or not. I suspect that many of these NONES will eventually become agnostics and/or atheists.

I label myself this way:

I am agnostic on the God question. I am convinced that the extant deities are no gods at all; that the Abrahamic God is a human construct. That said, I cannot know for certain whether, in the future, a deity might make itself known to us. I consider the probability of this happening to be .00000000000000000000001. Thus, I live my day-to-day life as an atheist — as if no deity exists. I see no evidence for the existence of any God, be it Jehovah, Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, or a cast of thousands of other gods. The only time I “think” about God is when I am writing for this blog. Outside of my writing, I live a God-free life, as do my wife, dog, and cat.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

“Bruce, You Will Return to Christianity” Says Facebook Commenter

jesus and bruce

Several weeks ago, I wrote an article titled Why Some Professed Atheists Return to Jesus, about a Facebook acquaintance of mine. This acquaintance of mine professed to be an agnostic. Several weeks ago, he made an announcement on Facebook that said he was returning to Christianity. While such returns are rare, they do, on occasion, happen. Why is it that someone would want to return to the leeks, onions, and garlic of Christianity once they’ve tasted the good fruits of reason and rationality? Surely it can’t be the evidence for the central claims of Christianity. After all, Christian theologians haven’t had an original thought in-like-forever. I can’t think of one argument in my lifetime that Christian apologists have come up with that advance our understanding of God. Christian theologians have been making the same, old, worn-out arguments since a man by the name of Jesus walked the shores of Galilee 2,000 years ago. So if a Christian becomes an atheist or an agnostic because of insufficient evidence for the existence of God, then what changed when they went back to Christianity? Surely not the evidence. Granted, many people reject Christianity and say they are atheists without really understanding the intellectual reasons for doing so. More often than not, it is for emotional reasons such people turn their backs on God, reject the Bible, and want nothing to do with Christianity. And it is often for similar reasons that people return to Christianity, disavowing their former atheistic beliefs.

My Facebook acquaintance posted my article to his wall. Most of the people who commented were Christians who disagreed with the content of my post. One Christian lady even made a prophecy about me, saying:

Daniel, I read the article and this is what I truly sensed in my spirit. This person will also return to his faith. He will have an experience that switches his inner switch back to ON and his love for the Father will be radical!

As with the pastor in my post yesterday titled, Evangelical Pastor Instructed by God to Give Me a Message, this woman believes that God talks to her; that God directly communicates messages to her about other people. In any other setting, such behavior would warrant a psych evaluation. I am not saying that religious belief is mental illness. What I am saying, however, is that hearing voices in your head other than your own and believing that an invisible being is instructing you to say or do something is a sign of psychological imbalance. And that’s what Evangelical Christianity does to people. It screws them up psychologically.

Bible literalism forces Evangelicals to believe all sorts of nonsense, including the notion that God lives inside of them. The popular Christian hymn In the Garden says God walks, talks, and tells Christians they belong to him. Evangelicals believe that God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, is an entity that envelops every fiber of their being. He is their teacher, guide, and conscience. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit gives to Christians everything they need pertaining to life and godliness. Never mind the fact, that the Bible hasn’t been updated in almost 2,000 years; that its teachings have little relevance to the scientific age we live in. Surely, the Bible needs a rewrite, one that better reflects the world we live in today. Instead, Evangelicals tell us,” God’s word is timeless!” “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” Evangelicals say, and “so is the Bible.” However, when pressed about certain archaic, bizarre, and immoral teachings found in the Bible, Evangelicals are quick to make all sorts of explanations and justifications that thoroughly discredit their claims.

god speaking

I’m sure that this woman, based on her steadfast belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, sincerely believes that the voice she hears in her head is the voice of the Christian God. I too at one time believed that God spoke to me; that my actions and sermons were guided and directed by the Holy Spirit who literally lived inside of me. On more than a few occasions, I spent numerous hours preparing my sermon, only to have “God” whisper to me in a still small voice when I entered the pulpit to preach something different. “God are you sure?” I’d say to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would reply, “Yes, that’s what I want you to preach.” And so I did, often with powerful demonstrations of God working in the midst of the congregation. Of course, I know now that the only voice I was hearing was my own. I now know that every answered prayer and every leading of the Spirit was me, not God. It was hard for me to realize that everything I attributed to God was in fact, Bruce. If there is a God in this story, it is me. You can call me Bruce Almighty.

As far as this woman’s prophecy is concerned, I have a matching prophecy to give:

This is what I truly sense in my mind, based on reason, knowledge, and personal experience. I will never return to Christianity; to my former life as an Evangelical pastor. I will continue to advance skepticism, rationalism, atheism, humanism, and good old common sense. I will continue to promote intellectual inquiry, and if I live long enough, I hope to see the death of Evangelical Christianity. It will be a good day when the “voice of God” fades from human consciousness; a day when humans finally understand the only Gods are they themselves.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Baptists, the Holy Spirit, and Being Endued with Power From on High

pentecost
Cartoon by Kevin Frank

In Luke 24, we find the risen Jesus appearing to his eleven disciples and several other people, saying to them: “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” After Jesus uttered these words, He ascended to Heaven and hasn’t been seen since. From that moment forward, Christians have wondered what Jesus meant when he said his followers would be “endued with power from on high.”

I was taught growing up in Baptist churches that the power spoken of by Jesus was the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost); that prior to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his ascension to Heaven, the Holy Spirit came UPON God’s chosen ones but did not permanently live inside of them. Once Jesus was gone from the scene, he sent the Holy Spirit (comforter) to earth to live inside every believer. I was taught similar pneumatology (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) in Bible college.

In Acts 2, we find the followers of Jesus gathered together on the day of Pentecost. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came upon them and “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Most Evangelicals believe that this was the moment that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in every believer and endue them with Heavenly power. I am just kidding: most Evangelicals don’t agree on anything — Holy Spirit included. You would think receiving the Holy Spirit would be quite simple, but thanks to endless arguments and debates amongst those who claim to have ONE LORD, ONE, FAITH, ONE BAPTISM, Christian sects have all sorts of pneumatological beliefs. Let me share a few of them with you.

Many Baptists believe that the moment a person is saved, the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence inside of them. Now, that’s only for people who are saved after the resurrection of Jesus. Those saved before the resurrection of Jesus — say people in the gospels and the Old Testament — the Holy Spirit came upon them when he needed to use them in some sort of powerful, supernatural way. Once this was accomplished, the Holy Spirit departed.

Other Baptists believe that the Holy Spirit has always lived in saved people — both before and after the resurrection of Jesus. These Baptists see a continuity between the Old and New Testaments. This belief is popular among worshippers of John Calvin.

And yet other Baptists believe that all saved people are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but “special,” on-fire, sold-out Christians can receive a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit if they really, really, really beg God to give it to them. Some preachers I heard growing up called this being baptized with the Spirit.

Wander off into the Evangelical weeds and you will find all sorts of additional — and contradictory — beliefs about the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit the moment you are baptized by immersion. Other sects believe similarly, except the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues. What is speaking in tongues, you ask? Ah yes, another belief Christians are hopelessly divided over.

Most Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is Demonic. Some Baptists believe that speaking in tongues is the ability to speak foreign languages you haven’t learned. Pentecostals, Charismatics, Apostolics, and some garden-variety Evangelical churches believe that speaking in tongues is some sort of babbling prophetic or prayer language; one that must be interpreted so hearers can understand; but then, maybe not — maybe it’s just a Heavenly prayer language that no one, including the speaker, understands. Turn on the TV and watch Christian programming and you will see plenty of speaking in tongues — interpreted and uninterpreted.

Back to the Holy Spirit. Some sects believe that you receive the Holy Spirit when you are saved, but if you want to want to have a close relationship with God, you need to beg him to fill you will his Spirit. Again, speaking in tongues or some other supernatural demonstration will be the requisite evidence for such fillings of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1980s and 1990s, I attended a number of southern-style camp meetings. It was not uncommon to “see” the Holy Spirit come upon people. They would start shouting, waving towels/hankies, running the aisles, walking on top of pews, and just about any other bit of religious craziness you can think of. I heard countless preachers say that the Holy Spirit gave them their sermons; that their preached words were straight from the Spirit himself. I had similar experiences while preaching. There were a few times when my sermons seemed to have some sort of special “zip” or anointing, and people responded to them in overtly emotional ways. One evening, in particular, I remember the service was overflowing with the Spirit. Sinners were saved and backsliders were reclaimed. Afterward, I was exhausted. God really used me for his purpose and glory, I thought at the time.

As you can see from this post, Christians have varied beliefs about the Holy Spirit and the outworkings of receiving said Spirit. It is these varied beliefs that make me wonder about the existence of God. If, as Christians believe, the Holy Spirit is essential to the salvation and the day-to-day lives of believers, why all the diverse and contradictory beliefs? Surely, God would want to make sure every Christian was on the same page when it came to the Holy Spirit, right? Yet, they are not, and the same could be said concerning virtually every other article of faith.

If, over the course of 2,000 years, we saw that Christians generally believed the same things, it might cause us to pause a moment and consider whether those beliefs are true. Instead, what we have is countless sects, each believing that their beliefs are true and all others false. This leads me to conclude that Christian religions are manmade, filled with internal and external contradictions. Either that or God loves confusion. Oh, wait, 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, God is NOT the author of confusion. If he’s not the author, who is? That’s right, humans are. And from this conclusion, it is clear: that religions — all of them — are human constructs; that the plethora of beliefs about the Holy Spirit reveals human engineering, not divine.

What were you taught about the Holy Spirit? Were you ever “filled” with the Holy Spirit? Did you ever speak in tongues? Please share your human utterances in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Let the Fun Begin: Baptist Church Business Meetings

church meeting

Most Baptist churches practice congregational government. This means that the church membership has the final say on what happens in the church. Some Baptist churches are truly congregational. No one can even fart without it being voted on first by church members. However, many Baptist churches are congregational in name-only. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, are known for having dictatorial, controlling pastors. The congregation may vote on big money issues, but the day-to-day operation of the church is left up to the pastor. This is especially true when the church was started by the pastor. The church becomes his fiefdom, his personal plaything, and no one, including his charges, is going to take it away from him. As long as the pastor doesn’t diddle little boys or use church offerings to play the ponies, he likely can remain the pastor until “God” calls him elsewhere.

Some Baptist churches — believing congregationalism puts power in the wrong hands — are governed by elders. All this does is concentrate power and control. Elders can and do abuse their authority, often acting in their own best interests. One need only look at megachurches with their corporation-style boards to see what happens when stakeholders no longer have any control. That’s not to say that congregationalism is the best form of church government. As long as people are people, there will be conflicts. What elevates these conflicts in Baptist churches, however, is that both sides believe that the Holy Spirit (God) is leading and speaking to them! I participated in numerous church business meetings where people metaphorically duked it out over who would get his way. I found it interesting then, and still do, how “God” can be so unclear about his good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Perhaps, the problem is that there is no God, and what you have are people with competing wants, needs, and desires.

What follows is a handful of stories from my days as a Baptist church member and pastor. These stories are a highlight reel of sorts from the countless church business meeting I attended.

As a teenager, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was the 1970s, and, thanks to Trinity’s aggressive evangelistic efforts, the church was one of the fastest-growing churches in the area. Attendance became so large that big attendance days such as Easter were held in the auditorium of nearby Findlay High School. Finally, church attendance reached a place where Pastor Millioni and the deacons decided it was time for a larger building. They would later move from their Trenton Avenue location to a spacious, modern round edifice near the Findlay Mall.

Church leaders decided to sell bonds to church members to finance construction. Such bond programs were quite popular at the time. They were later deemed to be fraudulent, little more than Ponzi schemes. One Sunday evening, church leaders called for a business meeting to discuss the new building. I attended the meeting. I was very much a committed follower of Jesus, one who took seriously the standards by which Christians were expected to live their lives. One rule was NO CUSSING! Imagine my surprise then when the church’s song director got into a verbal argument with someone and swore at him! Boy, was I shocked! Here was a man I deeply repected and he said some bad words. Such was my naiveté at the time.

In the early 2000s, while between pastorates, I attended Frontier Baptist Church in Frontier, Michigan. Frontier was a small, needy, dysfunctional congregation. I have concluded that I sought out such churches because I see myself as a “fixer.” I pastored several churches who needed Pastor Bruce to ride in on a white horse and “save” them. While Frontier had an elderly pastor, the congregation was most certainly in need of my help. Or so I thought anyway.

Once a month, the church — a Southern Baptist congregation — would hold a business meeting. The pastor was a strict congregationalist. He refused to make ANY decision without the church voting on the matter. The church was in desperate need of a new refrigerator. I just so happened to have a like-new fridge in storage. I told the pastor I would like to give a refrigerator to the church, thinking he would quickly and graciously say, sure. Instead — I kid you not — he said, “I can’t accept your gift, Bruce. The church will have to vote on it first.” And they did a month later. To this day, I don’t understand this kind of passive leadership, an unwillingness to make decisions on your own lest the congregation get upset with you.

I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a time in the 1970s. I attended Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist congregation. In this church, no one could become a member unless the congregation voted on their admission. At one business meeting, congregants discussed several people who were prospective members. When one woman’s name came up, the church matriarch asked, “is she divorced?” “Yes,” the pastor replied. “Then I vote NO on her membership.” And that was that. This church may have had a congregational form of government, but when Granny spoke everyone listened and fell in line.

In 1980, Polly and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio for a time before leaving to help start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake. The Baptist Temple was trying to raise money to build a gymnasium, along with some additional classrooms for their Christian school. The church’s pastor and deacons had agreed to pay cash for the construction. They believed that by “trusting God,” congregants would cough up the necessary money for the new building. Months and months went by, and then one Sunday an “important” business meeting was called for. At the appointed time, the church’s pastor told congregants that church leaders, with soon-to-be-given congregational approval, had decided to borrow the money necessary to build the building. I thought at the time, wait a minute! I thought we were going to trust “God” to provide the money?” No one said a word. It seemed like everyone was falling in line behind the Pied Piper. When asked if there were any more questions, I nervously stood and said, “Why are we changing horses now? I thought we were trusting God to provide the money.” Silence. You would have thought I had cut a raunchy fart in a crowded elevator. Keep in mind, the pastor was my wife Polly’s uncle. Nearby sat her preacher father and his wife. Needless, to say, my “out of the will of God” words were not appreciated. It wouldn’t be the last time Pastor Uncle and I would clash.

In 1994, I moved my family from southeast Ohio to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Imagine my surprise at the first church business meeting when I learned that women were not permitted to speak at public meetings. Now, I was quite an authoritarian at the time, but I was egalitarian when it came to business meetings. Worse yet, if a woman had a question, she was to whisper it to her husband or another man, and he would ask their question. I kid you not. The only time women were permitted to speak out loud during public meetings was when they were singing or praying.

Finally, I want to share a story from the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. One Sunday evening, the congregation gathered for a business meeting. During the meeting, a man stood up and said, “I have a real problem with So-and-So” — a fellow church member. He proceeded to air his grievances against this man and his family. Then So-and-So’s wife stood up and began listing all the problems she had with the first man and his family. The business meeting quickly turned into a shouting match between these two families. The meeting became so contentious that I just sat down and let these two families verbally duke it out. There was a moment when I thought it might turn into a physical altercation, but fortunately, it didn’t.

Finally, their war of words ended. I stood up and let them know what I thought of their childish behavior. These two families had been sitting on an increasing number of offenses for so long that when given a chance to air them, boy oh boy, did they! The good news is they were able to work out their differences. Both families were devoted, faithful church members, people who would go out of their way to help others. But, on this night, I was reminded of the fact that they were very much human, as we all are.

This post is not meant to demean the churches and parties mentioned. I hope by sharing these stories — and I could spend days writing about church business meetings — that readers would see that Baptists, for all their talk about following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, are just as human as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. All of us want our way, whether it is in our marriages, places of employment, or houses of worship. It’s normal to think that our viewpoint is the right one — no Holy Ghost needed. What’s harder for us to do is surrender our viewpoints to those of others, to admit that perhaps we just might not be right.

Do you have a favorite church business meeting story — Baptist or not? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce Gerencser